Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Feels like the city's crumbling before my very eyes

Grim report in the local rag today about the decrease in individual income:

"Akron's median household income has dropped almost 12 percent from the 2000 census. In Canton, the decline exceeds 18 percent.

Both are worse than the state and national averages.

Countywide, the picture isn't much better.

Summit County's median household income fell 11 percent; Stark, Portage and Wayne are down 9 percent; and Medina County has dropped 5 percent. "

Everywhere I go I see For Sale signs in yards. We may not be cutting and running in Iraq yet, but folks sure are doing it here in Akron.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Please Don't Marginalize the Arts in Akron

Here is what I sent to the Beacon:

Regarding your decision to cut back on arts reporting in the Akron Beacon Journal -- I would like you to reconsider and think about what effect your actions will have on our city. There are many of us who make our living creating art for our fellow citizens. You will be making it very difficult for us and for our audiences.

I was born in Akron and majored in theatre at the University of Akron. I received my first theatrical review from the legendary ABJ theatre critic, Dick Shippy -- who said I gave a "capable" performance. Years later, after returning to Akron from the West Coast where I honed my performance skills, another ABJ theatre critic, Bill O'Conner, wrote a wonderful story about my solo performance act -- the article was warm and thoughtful and included a beautiful photograph of me and my masks. That article propelled me into all kinds of theatrical opportunities and I will always be grateful for that man's ability to perceive what I was doing and find the words to share it with his readers.

Most recently, Kerry Clawson reviewed my production of "Man With Bags" at the University of Akron. Again, I was so fortunate to have a writer look at my work and appreciate the concept and the experimental nature of the project. I was greatly honored to find our production listed in her annual Best in Local Theatre column for 2005. The thought that there will be no more reviews of our local artistic endeavors sickens me to the core.

When you cut out the arts coverage, you are cutting out the one thing the Beacon does that makes me want to buy it. I can get news -- from international to local -- online. I can access endless sports web sites, and find all kinds of places that tell me how to garden, which stocks to buy, and what is fashionable to wear. What I will never be able to find online are the insightful and creative writers who currently staff the Beacon Journal. Those are your selling points -- Kerry Clawson, Elaine Guregian, Dottie Shin, David Giffels, Mark Price and all the rest -- they have developed loyal readers who want to know what is going on in our city. Drop these people or reassign them to mundane roles and you will lose more readers than you thought possible. I will be one of them.

Beacon set to cut arts coverage

The NEOhioPAL list published a letter today concerning threatened cuts to arts coverage at the Akron Beacon Journal. Please do as the writer asks and innundate the editors with letters of complaint:

Dear Friends:

It has just come to my attention that the Akron Beacon Journal is planning
major reorganizations within their newsroom which will have sickeningly
ill-effects on the coverage of all of Northeast Ohio's arts community.
Major cuts in ABJ's arts coverage are currently being seriously considered -
actually they are very close to be decided on - and we need everyone's help
in preventing what would be a disastrous blow to the future of information
flow for all artistic disciplines in Northeast Ohio.

Kerry Clawson, our loyal and supportive theatre critic, is having her
position threatened by possibly being reassigned to a new beat, one that
might involve no art whatsoever. After serving as theatre critic for six
years, Kerry has built a strong following of readers who respect her theatre
expertise and have come to depend on her to guide and inform them of
Northeast Ohio's performing arts happenings. Kerry has done a fine job in
covering events in our communities. She has enabled hundreds of thousands
of people to become acquainted with venues and to be informed about events
that perhaps our meager marketing budgets might not have allowed us to
otherwise reach.

In addition, ABJ editors are concurring that a new "No Reviews" policy be
implemented for everything from musical performance, dance concerts, art
openings and exhibits as well as theatre productions in the upcoming weeks.
The absurdity of a daily paper in a Metropolitan area to not provide reviews
of events is difficult to process. For an area so rich in the arts, how
could the Akron Beacon Journal's Editors and higher ups even consider
instilling such a policy - especially since they themselves live within our
communities? Do they not realize that their decisions will take their paper
and possibly our patronage two giant steps backwards instead of forwards?

Please everyone, we need to inundate these people with letters asking - no,
pleading - that they reconsider their destruction to their arts coverage.

Send this letter to more people. I've included contact information for the
VERY PEOPLE who are making these decisions. Send your letter to them AS
SOON AS POSSIBLE. Time is of the essence.

Thank you,

Effie Tsengas

For more information on budget cuts at the ABJ, visit this story:

Please send correspondence to ALL of the following people at the Akron
Beacon Journal in response to the following:

1) MAJOR cuts in their coverage of arts and cultural events.

2) The possible reassignment of theatre reviewer Kerry Clawson to an
entirely new beat

3) A new "no reviews" policy which would limit coverage of all arts
events to preview articles only.

Akron Beacon Journal
44 East Exchange Street
P.O. Box 640
Akron, OH 44309-0640

Publisher, Edward Moss

Editor, Debra Adams Simmons

Managing Editor, Mizell Stewart

Features Editor, Mitch McKenney
(Coverage of features/entertainment)

Monday, August 28, 2006

An Akron Weekend

Transitioning out of summer back into school and the set-up seems to be designed to help us all get our acts together without too much stress. Students don't show up until Wednesday, so this is a three day week for them, and with Labor Day ahead we'll have a four day week following. So it's not until the third week of school that we must have worked up the stamina for five whole days in a row.

The weather is in transition as well. The temps are in the 70s this week with cooler nights and a hint of autumn. Lovely drizzling rain all day today. Nothing pell mell, and a nice misty hazy sort of atmosphere.

Saturday I headed to the Highland Sq Festival, delayed a week by weather. Lots of good art at affordable prices! Much better stuff than the Arts Expo. I bought two Jamie Gellner designer scarfs, each a masterpiece! Could not resist a John Sokol print of Samuel Beckett formed from words taken from Godot -- for only $20. I purchased a DVD documentary of PR Miller, The Grizzled Wizard of Waste Not Want Not. And ordered a cool Akron tee shirt. Ran into lots of folks -- it was all very fun and festive too!

By Sunday I was ready to spend a relaxing day at home. Music on, laundry going, picking up and sorting things that need to go to school, things that need to go to Goodwill and things that need to be put where they belong. As the objects go to their proper places, the path ahead starts to appear. "Lesson plans" -- an ugly term if there ever was one. More like creating a structure out of which various projects and entertainments will spring forth.

In between bouts of cleaning and sorting, I finished up "See Delphi and Die" by Lindsey Davis, another in the clever series of Roman mysteries featuring Marcus Didius Falco, an informer. This one is great fun! Falco and his wife set off to solve the mysterious deaths of two young women in Greece who happened to have booked from the same travel agency. So we get some wonderful "views" of Corinth, Olympia and Delphi and learn how those oracles worked their magic. Took a couple of hours to finish it and as the book ended so did my summer vacation mind-set.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Voting issues

Our school had orientation last night and I noted that there was a voter registration table with two people sitting there actively making sure that everyone who passed the table was asked if they were registered. Good idea! Parents of public school kids are the major stake-holders. I don't have the figures, but I'm pretty sure that the number of voters in the last levy election did not equal the number of school children in Akron Public Schools.

I have seen some bitter posters on the ABJ boards who say they have students in the public schools but won't be voting YES on the levy. There's a lesson to be learned -- one or two bad teacher experiences can turn off a kid for life. These adults stereotype all teachers and all schools based on their own experiences. And that's how we get massive non participation and/or majority No votes in levy elections.

Well that and the fact that most people in the US are living month to month, pay check to pay check, and don't have the fortitude to give up something in order to pay for education. Or the fact that billions are being spent to blow Iraq to bits, which puts the squeeze on every level of government.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Just a few thought inbetween other tasks

Lots of school stuff to get ready. I don't want to use this blog to go on about work. Trying harder this year to leave work at work. I might have a few things to say about the school levy later on this fall. Right now I just want to wallow in the waning days of summer, with lovely cool nights now and no need for air conditioning.

The Project Runway episode airing tonight was charming with all the moms and sisters brought in so that the designers could create fashions for the "every day woman." The show's appeal is far reaching. I know straight guys who watch it! It's the design process that attracts -- the sketching, shopping for fabric, cutting and piecing, long hours of sewing and the occasional ego and personality conflicts -- it's all so unlike anything else on TV, even though it is of the reality genre. Tim Gunn, of Parsons School of Design, is a gem of a mentor. I find myself telling my students -- "make it work" and "carry on!" It's that positive tone in the face of sometimes disasterous design problems that is so inspiring.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

More jobs lost in Akron

So 40 ABJ staff members are gone in 60 days. That's a huge chunk. Sounds like they are cutting way back in the sports department. And 4 photographers gone too. The newspaper business is not the best career path these days. They've got to find a way to make money via the internet. What they do is an essential to a good life in the village. We need to have a reporter there when we can't be. Someone who can ask the tough questions and who can write with economy and intelligence.

I would buy an online subscription to the ABJ. They could sweeten the deal by setting up real discussion boards, not just the annonymous comments after the select few stories of the day. A side question here -- I wonder who has been in charge of selecting which stories get the comments feature? Sometimes they pick the silliest stories, like the one on how much it costs to buy school supplies for your kids. A permanent discussion board would allow us to keep posting on specific topics instead of having to blurt out an opinion before the story vanishes into the 7 day archives.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Paperless Paper

Ebo writes in support of paperless newspapers. So how will the newspapers deal with this in the future? Supposedly, advertisers will pay for online ads, especially if there is a lot of traffic to the web site. But, evidently the Akron Beacon Journal is not making enough profit to satisfy the new owners. If the newstaff is cut in half, that's a hell of a lot of reporting power out the door and in the unemployment lines.

Hypatia writes that I could subscribe but ask for the paper not to be delivered. Or I could designate that my subscription go somewhere useful, like to a women's shelter. These are good options, but do I want to support a paper that is about to fire a bunch of staff members?

Weird how I'm making it my problem instead of the Beacon's problem! After all, they are the ones in charge of business decisions. They need to come up with a plan that doesn't gut the reporting staff.

What we really need are a bunch of reporters working on some big time local stuff (we're talking Pulitzer calibre material) such as the whys and wherefores of all the murders and robberies going on in Akron this summer. I'd really like to know the back stories of everyone who was murdered or robbed, as well as the stories of the perps. Are they classic cases of children who were left behind and never got a chance in life? Or is it not so simple? How about a hard look at the crime areas in this town? When the houses start to deteriorate and the people living in them have no money to fix them up, what kind of actions are left to take?

I'd also like to see a series on the actual workings of our local political parties. Being a newbie to the political scene, I'd like to know more about how it all works, what doesn't work, and what could be a whole lot better. Is there power at the grass roots level or is it all controlled by the people in long term positions? What the heck does a precinct captain do? Is phone banking effective? Does the average Jane who always votes Democratic ever have any contact with the party? And how do you get the local Dems to think forward and come up with some creative solutions to difficult local problems?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

I must be crazy... start a blog just as I'm getting ready to head back to school on Monday. But it is the logical thing to do. It brings to culmination a summer spent reading other people's blogs. It's a great writing exercise that helps with the thesis. Kind of like doing a warm-up. Get's the fingers and brain stretched and ready to write. And its a useful outlet for all the rants building up inside. Some readers may remember my pre-Internet publication, The Dumpster Times, Akron's only Journal of Art and Anarchy! O those were the days! Days of cut and paste and typeface composed on an old manual typewriter.

But the sentiments and motivations remain pretty much the same.

"Someone has said that it requires less mental effort to condemn than to think. " (Emma Goldman)

Blogging from the downside of Akron

Sunday morning and I've just finished reading the paper. Only it wasn't on paper, it was online. Didn't pay a cent to read it and had the fun of responding to local news using the Beacon's online "Comments" feature. I've been posting there all summer long. When that feature was started, the first weeks were pure anarchy. People reveled in the complete freedom to show their intelligence or lack thereof. Posting anonymously gives people the freedom to show what they are really made of, and it can get downright scary. And you know that the person making the ugly racist comments would never speak those in general public. A few weeks ago, an anonymous moderator started deleting the worst of the comments.

The Beacon boards have introduced us to a number of interesing locals, my favorite being The Centrist, who is the poster most people love to hate. He's so gosh darn reasonable, which really ticks some folks off no end! He gets called Lefty and Commie a lot, as if those words mean the same things they used to in the 50s. What are the derogatories for the Right Wing? I don't see anyone using them on the Beacon Boards. Nobody calls them "fundies" or "right wing fascists." We're talking the dwindling percentages of people who still believe in Bush, as in faith-based. They are loud and shrill and kind of fun to pick on at the moment. But we must be vigilent and keep up the campaigning. Positive words that other people will remember.

But now in a post over at Pho's Akron Pages, I read that the Beacon may be reducing their newsroom staff -- perhaps as much as 50%. I feel guilty as hell because I read the thing everyday online and am not subscribing to it. Fact is I don't want a pile of newspapers growing every day to be recycled every week. It's much more convenient to read it online. I would pay for an online subscription because I need my local newspaper and admire many of the writers on its staff. However, paying for news online doesn't seem like it is going to happen in the near future. There are too many places that will always serve it up for free.

I wonder how the NYT Select service is working out for them? I won't pay for that service because I'm still pissed at the way the Times held out on reporting key stories which could have (and should have) had an effect on the last presidential election. But the local news is really important and I shudder at what the new owners of the Beacon may have in store for us. Will there be anyone left to report the disintegration and decay of a once thriving city?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Festival Day in Akron

"We are the village green preservation society."

Here in the village of Kenmore, a long-neglected neighborhood of Akron, Ohio, the boulevard could use some care and attention. The old diner closed sometime within the past few months. Karl and Bob's Elbow Inn moved to Kenmore after losing their spot on S Main Street to Canal Park. But it has vanished from the Boulevard and I have to wonder where is the model of the Taj Mahal now?

I live on the west side of Summit Lake, the side with the least murders. The east side of the lake borders a section of housing that is very run down. Here and there are a few well tended aging homes, fronted by carefully planted flower beds. But most of the house fronts look as sad as the people living inside them.

I went to the Summit Lake Community Festival today to work at the Sherrod Brown table with five other campaign volunteers. All members of the Summit County Progressive Democrats. I'm not an official member yet, but today I got the scoop on the organization and I can see that I'm going to be pulled in pretty quickly. They got together originally through and worked on the Kerry campaign. After the election was stolen, the group decided to stay together and work harder. They've worked their way into the local democrat organizing scene, gaining 25 precinct captainships and nominated one of their members to a county wide democrat party office. The ones I've met so far are good people, dedicated and very organized.

The Blackwell campaign had a table at the festival. They gave away Blackwell teeshirts, and we gave people Sherrod Brown stickers to stick over the Blackwell lettering. People stopped at our booth all afternoon. Most refused the write in ballot application. They want to go to the poll in person. So somehow, we have to figure out how to make sure their votes are counted correctly.

On this particular Saturday, three festivals were going on less than a mile from each other, but in completely different settings for diverse populations. The Summit Lake Community Festival was about 95% African-American. At the north end of town, the University Arts in the Park Festival took place in notorious Grace Park, known as a gay male pick up park for decades. On this Saturday, it was full of large tents housing some upscale art objects for sale. The crowd was about 3/4 middle to upper class arts patrons while the rest were either denizens of the homeless shelter round the block or else senior citizens bussed in from various places around the city.

The third festival did not happen. The Art in the Square Fest at Highland Sq was cancelled due to rain. It is postponed until Aug 26th.